14 Houseplant Myths You Can Safely Ignore

There are many tips and tricks in the gardening world, especially when it comes to houseplants. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton looks at some of the most common houseplant myths you can safely ignore when it comes to caring for your indoor plants.

Houseplants growing on a ledge near a window


Even before the age of the internet, gardening communities were full of myths and old wives’ tales that many plant lovers purported to be true. Now that we have a wealth of information at our fingertips, the myths have only become more widespread – especially when it comes to houseplants.

Don’t get me wrong; many houseplant myths have some truth to them. But they are often misinterpreted or misused.

You can safely ignore these 14 houseplant myths and stick to the tasks you know that work.

Myth 1: Misting Improves Humidity

A dark green watering spray delicately mists a long, curly, and large leaf of a vibrant green plant. The water droplets shimmer under the light, glistening like tiny diamonds on the leaf's surface.
Spraying the air around your plants disperses moisture throughout your home instead of containing it in one area.

Misting is one of those recommendations that has become so common it’s not really questioned. Decorative misting bottles are now a regular part of indoor plant care kits, and many houseplant owners include the practice as a consistent part of their routine.

The reason for this is humidity. Many houseplants come from the tropics and reside in rainforests where humidity levels are around 70% or higher throughout the year.

Replicating these environments indoors is essential for houseplants to thrive. Most are happy in any humidity above 40%, but those with drier conditions will struggle to grow many popular plants indoors.

Why It’s Wrong

Misting the air around your houseplants is believed to increase the humidity in that space, ultimately improving growth. Unfortunately, while adding moisture to the air will up the humidity briefly, the practice of misting is not as effective as it seems.

When you spray the air around your plants, the moisture isn’t contained in one area – it spreads through the air in the room and throughout your home. You may boost humidity briefly, but this effect doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes, having little to no impact on growth.

Not only is misting largely ineffective, but it can also cause other growth problems like fungal diseases that are tough to remove. The constant changes in conditions may also lead to stress that stunts growth rather than helping it.

What to Do Instead

Occasionally misting the leaves of your plants to remove dirt and give them a bit of extra shine won’t hurt. But if boosting humidity is the goal, you shouldn’t need to mist your plants several times per day.

Instead, invest in a humidifier or choose a room in your home with more suitable conditions. For plants that don’t need as much humidity as a humidifier would provide, consider the “pebble tray” method.

Underneath your plant, place a tray with some pebbles or decorative glass pieces in it, and set the pot on top of the pebbles. Add water to the pebble tray so that it sits just under the pot, but the pot isn’t sitting in a pool of water. As the water evaporates, this will increase the ambient humidity around your plant.

Myth 2: Low Light Houseplants Can Survive Anywhere

Placed on a brown table, a collection of houseplants proudly display their diverse foliage. The leaves come in a variety of colors, ranging from deep emerald green to soft pastel hues, while their sizes vary, some small and delicate, others large and lush.
Everyone wants to know which houseplants can survive in low light.

One of the questions I get asked most often is – which houseplants can survive in low light? Whether it’s a dark hallway in your home or a shelf shielded from a nearby window, everyone wants to know which plant they can stick in a dark corner without worry.

The unfortunate answer is: none of them.

Why It’s Wrong

My garden motto is “Low light does not equal no light.” Some houseplants are more tolerant of lower lighting conditions than others but still need sun for photosynthesis. Without sunshine, they cannot survive.

Don’t get me wrong, some plants will last longer than others in dark areas. Resilient plants (the ZZ Plant comes to mind) will stay alive for weeks or even months in the wrong spot. But they cannot live like this long-term and will eventually show signs of struggle.

What to Do Instead

Most common houseplants prefer to grow in spots with bright indirect light. These are spots right next to a bright window but protected from the direct sun’s rays. Moderate to low light is still found in rooms with bright windows but further from the light source.

If you’re not sure, there are light meters you can purchase to see whether your plants will survive in the area you’re using. You can even find apps on your phone (although they aren’t always accurate). If you want to keep your houseplants happy, avoid rooms with small north-facing windows, or, worse, no windows at all.

If you’re stuck with one of those small, north-facing windows, consider giving your plant “vacation days” from the conditions inside your house. On those days, place it outside, but not in full and direct sun — choose a spot that’s in the shade but has a good amount of ambient light.

Myth 3: Plants Need Repotting Every Year

With meticulous care, a man wearing white gloves gently removes the dark, rich soil from the exposed roots of a plant. The plant rests on a brown table, alongside a green watering spray and a white pot. Its remaining part showcases vibrant green leaves, contrasting beautifully against the dark soil.
When determining the appropriate time for repotting, several indicators can be observed.

Repotting is an essential part of houseplant care. Every plant will eventually outgrow its existing container, needing extra space for the roots to expand. Without it, they will wrap around each other with nowhere to go, leading to stunted growth.

Even if you have a compact houseplant that doesn’t grow much, repotting is still a necessity. This process will replace any soil that has degraded over time, improving conditions and promoting root health.

Why It’s Wrong

While repotting at the right time is great for plant health, transplanting too often can stall growth. Repotting is a stressful process for plants. They love consistency and don’t appreciate changes in conditions.

Lots of handling and roots exposed to the air are certainly not things they are used to. For these reasons, it’s better to wait until repotting is absolutely necessary rather than repotting every plant every year or repotting as soon as you bring a plant home.

What to Do Instead

Look out for signs telling you when it’s the right time to repot. The most obvious sign is roots growing through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Stunted growth and discoloration are also possible, although other issues can cause these.

Some fast-growing plants may need repotting yearly, while others only need a new pot in two to three years. Some, like African Violets, might need repotting more than once a year. Follow the needs of your specific plant rather than an annual schedule.

Myth 4: A Bigger Pot Leads To Bigger Growth

Dressed in yellow gloves, a diligent gardener skillfully transfers rich, dark soil into a large, white pot. A majestic plant stands tall with a sturdy, brown stem, adorned with leaves that bear striking green and white markings. Adjacent to the pot, a black plastic garbage bag contains the rich, dark soil.
A larger pot is commonly believed to accelerate plant growth, but in reality, it often has the opposite effect.

This container myth can be quite damaging to your houseplants, depending on what you’re growing.

Indeed, plants usually need bigger containers when repotting – that is, after all, often the point of the process. But many houseplant roots prefer to be slightly confined to promote growth above the soil.

Why It’s Wrong

You may assume that a much larger pot will help your plant grow bigger much quicker. But the opposite is usually the case. This extra space can slow growth above the soil while the plant focuses its energy on root development. The excess soil can also hold onto too much moisture that doesn’t get absorbed by the roots, potentially leading to rot.

What to Do Instead

Transplant into a container only one or two sizes up. This space increase is suitable for most houseplants. Larger trees like Ficuses may benefit from a slightly bigger pot, but most will be happy in two sizes up at maximum

Plants will grow quickest when their environmental conditions are right, and they have the right care. An unnecessarily large pot won’t compensate for any loss in these areas.

Myth 5: Fertilizer Will Fix Stunted Growth

Nestled in a pot filled with brown soil, plants with thick and fleshy stems flourish. As the man injects a bottle filled with yellow liquid fertilizer into the soil, the plants soak in the nourishment, their stems growing sturdier and their vibrant leaves reflecting the health and vitality bestowed upon them.
Adding fertilizer immediately when stunted growth appears is unlikely to solve the issue.

If your houseplant was previously growing happily and putting out new leaves, it could be stressful when it stops growing completely. Often indoor gardeners will turn to fertilizer to resolve the problem, believing that lack of nutrients is the issue.

However, lack of nutrients is not usually the cause of stunted growth in houseplants. More often, stunted growth is caused by other issues like lack of sunlight, inconsistent watering, or sudden environmental changes.

Why It’s Wrong

Applying fertilizer at the first sign of stunted growth probably won’t fix the problem. To make matters worse, adding extra nutrients at a time when they are not needed may increase plant stress, doing more damage than intended.

Fertilizers will give plants a nutrient boost, but they will not resolve growth problems caused by other environmental conditions.

What to Do Instead

If you notice stunted growth, identify the real cause before fertilizing. Check the light conditions, temperature, soil moisture, and humidity, and monitor for signs of pests or diseases. If none of these are in evidence, go ahead and fertilize.

Myth 6: Houseplants Purify The Air

 Beside a windowsill, three potted white plants catch the eye with their vibrant green hues. The first plant showcases a tall and slender shape, while the second plant boasts a rounded and compact form. The third plant stands out with its lance-shaped leaves, gracefully draping over the pot's edge.
The idea of air-purifying houseplants ranks high among popular misconceptions.

Along with misting, air-purifying houseplants tops the list of most widespread myths. The premise has some truth, centered around a now famous NASA study. But its application in our homes differs greatly from the original study.

This myth largely began a few decades ago with the NASA Clean Air Study. Several NASA scientists conducted experiments on various common houseplants to determine their ability to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. The study revealed that many houseplants could remove toxins from the air, creating a ranked list of ‘air-purifying houseplants.’

Why It’s Wrong

This study was performed in a controlled environment in small chambers, just large enough to fit the plants themselves. These conditions don’t quite match the environments in our homes, where the air is spread, and windows and doors are often open. By volume, there’s just too much air for a single houseplant – or even a dozen – to clean in the average home.

What to Do Instead

If you really want to purify your home’s air, an air purifier will likely be more effective than a few plants. Follow-up studies have shown that houseplants can purify the air, but an insanely large amount of plants are needed in a small space to have a measurable effect. Houseplants come with many proven benefits, but you need a ton of plants to uphold this myth.

Myth 7: Indoor Plants Can’t Grow Outdoors

Placed on a wooden table, a delightful collection of houseplants mesmerizes with their diverse foliage. One plant displays large, heart-shaped leaves in deep shades of emerald green. Another plant flaunts petite, variegated leaves adorned with splashes of cream and green. A third plant stands tall, showcasing elongated, lance-shaped leaves in vibrant shades of chartreuse.
Indoor plants are labeled due to their ability to thrive indoors, but may have different preferences and tolerances.

Certain plants are commonly found in indoor plant sections of nurseries and labeled ‘houseplant’ more than anything else. You will reliably find these plants potted up in containers and ready to grow indoors rather than in the outdoor ornamental sections of stores.

But these labels don’t mean they were made to grow only indoors – it means they can grow better indoors than other plants.

Why It’s Wrong

Some species come from the tropics and like the same conditions humans do indoors, or may not handle cold weather well and need protection from frost in the cooler months. Others may be tougher overall, tolerant of a wider range of conditions, including those found indoors.

All of these plants have outdoor native habitats and will likely grow better outdoors in similar climates. But they happen to grow well in household conditions, giving them the label of ‘indoor plant.’

What to Do Instead

Moving houseplants outdoors for the summer can dramatically improve growth (as long as temperatures stay consistently within each species’ threshold). If you live in a warm region, you can plant any ‘indoor plant’ outdoors in the ground. The only caveat to this is invasive species (such as Pothos) that shouldn’t grow outdoors for the risk of smothering other native species.

Myth 8: Indoor Plants Are Dormant In Winter

Nestled beside a glass window, two potted houseplants radiate a lush green color that adds freshness to the space. The first plant stands tall, its slender silhouette accentuated by delicate, elongated leaves. The second plant, compact in size, showcases broad, oval leaves with a glossy sheen, creating a striking visual contrast.
The advice commonly found in plant care guides on the internet is to reduce watering and feeding during seasons when plants go dormant.

Read almost any plant care guide on the internet, and you will likely see advice telling you to slow watering and feeding over fall and winter as the plant becomes dormant. While there is some truth to the task, the reasoning behind it is quite different.

Why It’s Wrong

Common houseplants come from warm climates where temperatures don’t drop much, even in the cooler months. They don’t become ‘dormant’ as many temperate garden plants do outdoors. They will continue to grow as long as the conditions are right.

But that doesn’t mean they need the same care year-round. It is still useful to slow watering and feeding in winter, but only because of temperature drops.

What to Do Instead

Don’t assume your houseplants are completely dormant. Remember that many houseplants slow growth when temperatures drop below around 60°F (with some variation depending on the plant). They will take up less water and nutrients during that time, meaning you’ll need to water less. Colder temperatures also slow evaporation rates, retaining moisture in the soil for longer periods.

Myth 9: There Are Ideal Plants For Each Room In Your Home

Resting in a corner of a white house, a potted plant captivates with its distinctive features. Its large, pierce-shaped leaves dominate the scene, painted in a rich shade of green that beautifully complements the surrounding white walls. The plant's sturdy stems stand tall yet maintain an elegant slenderness, adding an element of grace to the corner.
Consider the conditions in each room of your home as they vary significantly.

New gardeners who want to purchase their first houseplant often start with a particular room in mind. I’ve been there – noticing an empty gap on a shelf or in a corner and imagining what plant will look or grow best there.

This has spawned many infographics and plant lists around the internet, describing the best possible houseplants for each room.

These lists do have some truth to them. For example, bathrooms are usually humid rooms with lower light levels due to smaller windows. These conditions limit which plants can grow successfully in those spaces.

Why It’s Wrong

Everyone’s home is slightly different. In my previous home, my bathroom window was the only one with direct sunlight. With the windows open, I could grow small succulents on my bathroom windowsill – certainly not a common spot for succulents to grow.

What to Do Instead

There is no perfect plant for each room in your home as conditions differ wildly between spaces. Rather than choosing the plant by room, consider the conditions in the space and find a plant that needs that spot to thrive. Also, consider your own aesthetics here; if you hate a particular plant species, no infographic should force you to grow it!

Myth 10: Pebbles Can Replace Drainage Holes

Adorning a large transparent vase, a plant flourishes within rich, dark soil, with carefully arranged white pebbles at the bottom. The sturdy green roots of the plant hints at its resilience, while the rough texture adds an intriguing touch.
Without proper drainage, the roots will suffocate and eventually rot, resulting in the plant’s death.

When repotting any houseplants, drainage should be your first consideration. The container and the soil must drain well to remove excess moisture around the roots and promote airflow. Without it, the roots will essentially suffocate and begin to rot, ultimately killing the plant.

Why It’s Wrong

I’ve often been in a situation where I see a decorative pot that I love, only to see it doesn’t have any drainage holes. You’ve probably been in the same boat, whether purchasing a new pot or recycling old garden and home items to turn into containers.

If that’s the case, you may have seen the suggestion of using pebbles at the bottom of the container to replace drainage holes. According to the theory, the water will drain from the soil and stay around the pebbles, keeping the roots dry.

Unfortunately, there are 3 reasons pebbles don’t work:

  1. You cannot water the pebbles without touching the soil.
  2. The water pooling in the container’s bottom will become stagnant, leading to bacterial growth and risking plant health. Pebbles may create a water reservoir or a water table in your container, but that doesn’t mean the water in it is good for your plants.
  3. The roots can still grow through the pebbles to reach the water and may still rot.

What to Do Instead

No matter how carefully you’re willing to water, your houseplants will be much healthier and happier in a container with drainage holes. If your pot has no drainage, drill holes in it or select a different container.

Myth 11: Houseplants Can Be Watered On A Schedule

A man in a checkered polo shirt attentively waters a plant, holding a large, white watering vase. The plant rests in a pristine white pot, showcasing its slender stems adorned with petite, oval-shaped, vibrant green leaves.
To determine the appropriate watering time, test the soil in the container instead of adhering to a fixed schedule.

If you’re new to growing houseplants, it can be tough to determine the perfect time to water. If you’re a forgetful waterer like me, you may have done some quick research and set an alarm to water once per week, ensuring you never leave them to dry out. While this is better than forgetting about your plants altogether, it’s not the best way to water.

Why It’s Wrong

Soil moisture levels are never consistent. They change with the environment, the season, the growth of your plant, the size of your pot, and so on. Watering on a strict schedule ignores these factors, potentially leading to watering when the plant does not need it or waiting too long to water. 

What to Do Instead

Rather than following a schedule, test the soil in the container first. Stick your finger in the soil and gauge the moisture level. Usually, if the soil sticks to your finger and you can feel damp, it has ample moisture. If your finger comes out clean or dusty and you can’t feel any moisture, the soil is too dry. Depending on how much moisture your plant needs, this will help you decide when to water.

Consider also where that moisture is located. If the surface of an established plant’s soil is dry to the touch, is it wet down near the roots? If so, you may not need to water immediately, but it indicates that you’re not too far from watering time.

Myth 12: Wilting Houseplants Need Water

Just because a plant is wilting does not mean it needs more water.

It’s widely known among gardeners that plants can wilt when they don’t have enough water. The cells in the leaves lose their moisture, unable to keep their structure and hold the stems and leaves upright. That’s why most gardeners reach for their watering cans as soon as they see signs of wilting.

Why It’s Wrong

Wilting is not always caused by underwatering. It is certainly the most common cause, but not the only one. If you water without identifying the cause first, you may do more harm than good.

As contradictory as it may seem, overwatering can also lead to wilting plants. Mushy stems and rotting roots can’t transport water to parts of the plant that need it, causing the leaves to droop.

Excessive sunlight exposure or sudden drafts (from open windows or heaters/air conditioning systems) can also cause leaves to wilt suddenly. And of course, certain kinds of plant diseases can cause wilting, too, although these have other symptoms you can usually pinpoint.

What to Do Instead

If your houseplants start wilting and you haven’t watered in a while, it’s probably time to give them a drink. But if the soil is still slightly moist, avoid watering and identify the real cause. You may want to look for signs of root rot or oversaturated soil down near the root level, or thoroughly examine your plant for symptoms of pests or diseases.

Myth 13: All Succulents Are Good Indoor Plants

Adjacent to a glass window, an array of potted houseplants thrives. However, some of their leaves have succumbed to wilting, creating a visual contrast amidst the otherwise lush greenery.
Succulents often need more light than indoor environments recieve.

Succulents are beloved for their tolerance of neglect. They are often recommended for beginners because they need little attention to thrive and don’t need to be watered often. However, they need to start in the right environment for their needs to truly be met.

Why It’s Wrong

For most succulents, that environment does not match what we have indoors. Many succulents come from desert regions with high temperatures and dry air. They are also used to a full day of sun – around 8 hours or more of direct light. These conditions are tricky to replicate in our homes.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to grow succulents indoors. You shouldn’t have any trouble if you can find a sunny spot with the right conditions. But don’t assume that they will be no-fuss plants when placed in a low-light, high-humidity spot in your home.

What to Do Instead

If you want to grow succulents indoors, a few species grow better than others. Crassula ovata, also known as the jade plant, is one of the most popular. String succulents are also suitable for lower-light areas and grow well in hanging baskets.

Myth 14: Leaves Need To Be Shined

Placed delicately on a wooden table, small potted houseplants beckon attention. These captivating plants feature compact rosettes of diminutive green leaves, exuding a charming and cozy aura.
When plants lack sufficient water, gardeners are aware that they wilt.

We all want our houseplants to look their best, especially when they are prominently displayed in our homes. Lush, glossy leaves are always the goal rather than dusty, limp foliage that becomes more of an eyesore than a feature.

Why It’s Wrong

Several products have been developed to keep leaves glossy, known as leaf shine. You may even find recommendations on the internet for home products to use (mayonnaise is, weirdly, one of the most common). Unfortunately, some leave a residue on the leaves that blocks the ‘pores’ of the plant, negatively impacting growth.

What to Do Instead

There are natural products available that may not be as damaging to your plants. But the best way to keep your leaves shiny is to clean them regularly and keep the plant healthy. Skip the extra products and occasionally wipe down with water and a soft cloth.

Final Thoughts

You’re not alone if you’ve fallen for any of these myths. There’s a reason they are so widespread! But armed with this knowledge, you can tell the difference between fact and fiction.

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